Final Checks: Moving In & Snagging

Chris Bates sets out the consents and certificates you need to get in place before you can start to enjoy your self-build home, and reveals how you can ensure the finished house meets your expectations
by Chris Bates
4th February 2016

As you approach the end of the self-build journey, you’ll no doubt be chomping at the bit to move into your new home. But before you can lie back on your new settee, you’ll need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

This means making sure all the necessary steps have been taken to secure a formal completion certificate from building control. You’ll also need to put measures in place to check your home’s been finished to a standard you’re happy with. This process is known as snagging.

Moving in

Formal completion basically equates to receiving sign-off from your local authority that your project accords with the planning consent, and that the house is safe and meets the minimum standards laid out in the Building Regulations.

Typically, your main contractor, surveyor, project manager or package house supplier will sign off the property and apply to the local authority for a completion certificate. If you’ve managed the scheme yourself, then the responsibility for arranging this will rest with you.

The completion certificate is the single most important document you’ll be issued with over the course of your scheme. This is the official written record showing that the house has been built and finished to a satisfactory standard and can be used residentially. So be sure to lodge a copy with your solicitor. It’s also the trigger that allows you to apply to HMRC for a VAT reclaim on any eligible materials you’ve used.

Your new home will now become liable for council tax, so expect a band assessment to come through from the local authority within a few months. When your first bill hits the floor, it will be backdated to the completion certificate. So it could amount to a significant sum.

It is possible to move in before the house is 100% finished, provided it meets certain minimum criteria. To do this, you’ll usually need to arrange an inspection with building control with a view to obtaining a habitation or temporary occupancy certificate.

You’ll collect a number of other important documents over the course of your project, all of which should be filed for safekeeping. These will include various benchmark certificates showing that domestic heating appliances meet the required standards and final safety certificates from the Part P registered trades (eg for electrics).

Unless one of your professional team is securing it as part of their responsibilities, you’ll also need to commission an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This details how efficient the house is (this is required whenever a property is built, sold or rented).

Snagging

When you’re building a bespoke home, there will always be small defects that need sorting out along the way. This might include things such as unfinished edges, sticking windows, poorly hung doors and paint splashes.

Most of these issues will be picked up as you go along. There will, however, always be some minor elements that are only identified as the project reaches its conclusion. Snagging is the process of getting your builder to rectify these outstanding glitches at the end of the project.

Fundamentally, you’ll need to produce a comprehensive list of all the things that need sorting out before you settle the final bill.

Most self-builders will hold back around 2.5%-5% of the agreed contract price to cover snags. This is an accepted part of the industry, but the retention needs to be pre-written into your contract with the builder – as it is with the small works agreements available from the likes of the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT).

If, for whatever reason, they don’t finish the work to your satisfaction, you’ll have a lump sum in the bank that you can use to pay someone else to remedy the situation – or you could net a little windfall by sorting it out yourself.

Bear in mind that if you’ve project managed the build yourself and hired individual trades, you’ll need to negotiate the snagging process with each of them. Exactly when that happens – and who is responsible for certain faults – can be up for debate. This can be particularly difficult if something has suffered minor damage after installation.

Checking the work

Your snagging inspection should take place at an agreed date after the completion certificate has been issued. At this point, you know the house already meets the Building Regulations, so there shouldn’t be any major issues to address.

The process usually takes the form of a walkaround of the house with your contractor – with both parties noting defects as they go. It will typically take a couple of hours to snag a three-bedroom house. If possible, have your architect or designer in tow as they may be able to help negotiate any contentious points.

Do remember that this is your chance to have genuine faults corrected – not a means to get the builder to do more work for free. If they’ve followed the drawings for elements such as light switch positions, door hanging etc and you change your mind, you’ll have to pay a fair rate for the job.

One of the issues around snagging can be subjectivity. What might be permissible in the eyes of your builder might not match up to your own ideal. For instance, industry standards aren’t exactly tight when it comes to details like acceptable thresholds for uneven plaster. The best way to overcome this kind of problem is to ensure your quality expectations are mapped out and agreed in the original contract.

Latent defects & warranties

Your new home is likely to be the biggest investment (both in terms of time and money) you ever make, so it makes sense to protect it.

The conventional route to guarding against hidden defects is to take out a structural warranty. Providers include BuildStore (with its BuildCare product), CRL, NHBC, Protek, Selfbuild Insurance and Self-Build Zone. You need to arrange this before construction begins, as the provider will inspect the scheme at regular intervals (much like building control). It will issue corresponding certificates for each phase, as well as a final document on completion.

Most insurance-backed structural warranties last for 10 years. They will pay out to put right any damage caused by defects in the structure that become apparent over time – such as cracked walls and failed drainage – whether as a result of poor design, workmanship or components.

Typical warranty costs range from £1,500-£5,000, usually payable in a single premium. While that may seem like a big chunk of your budget, it will be essential should you decide to sell within that period. Most mortgage companies require this as evidence of professional competence before they’ll lend on the property – even if it has a normal completion certificate.

There is a slightly cheaper alternative available, in the form of an architect’s certificate, which most lenders accept. This will cost around £1,000 and is valid for six years. It’s important to be clear, however, that an architect’s certificate is not an insurance-backed warranty. If you do experience major problems, your only recourse will be to make a legal claim against the architect’s professional indemnity insurance.

Quick guide: Snagging checklist

You’ll probably have a good handle on the main niggles from having regularly visited the site. The trick is to bring these into a room-by-room checklist. Your architect or designer may be willing to help, or you can find a number of free snagging templates by searching online. Here are a few key areas to get you started:

EXTERIOR

Claddings & finishes – neat, clean and properly aligned

Gutters – secure, with no gaps between the fascia and the gutter

Gulleys & drains – surface water flows correctly (test with a bucket of water)

Outdoor lights – sealed and working

Turf – evenly laid, no gaps

Patios/decking – stable and level (with slight fall)

Fencing & gates – correctly fixed and functional

Garage doors – functional and secure

GENERAL

Walls & ceilings – evenly painted, free from blemishes and neatly finished at covings

Doors & windows – open, close and lock properly

Mouldings – skirtings, architraves etc well-fitted with no gaps

Floor coverings – properly installed

Staircases – no gaps or creaks, balusters secure

Loft – access hatch operates well

Take meter readings

HEATING & ELECTRICS

Power sockets – properly seated and working

Light switches & fittings – operating, with correct polarity

Heating system – functional, all controls and emitters working

Fireplaces/stoves – well-fitted and flues performing properly

KITCHEN

Cooker, hood & appliances – working and undamaged during fitting

Sinks & taps – operating with no leaks

Cupboards & drawers – well-fitted, open and close smoothly

Worktops – level, unblemished and with neat joints

BATHROOM

Sanitaryware – no chips, well-fitted, secure and silicone sealed

Toilets, showers, basins & taps – functioning with no leaks

Bath panels & enclosures – correctly fitted and properly aligned

Tiling – level, evenly spaced and properly grouted

Extractor fans – working

Main image: Quality can be subjective, so the snagging process can be contentious. For example, in a modern home such as this, crisp, clean detailing and perfectly smooth plasterwork are  a must [Pic: David Barbour]

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